DENVER — The musicians stuck to the classics at the Colorado Symphony’s first-ever “Classically Cannabis” fundraiser Friday night. They played Strauss and Wagner, not Marley and Garcia. Their only concessions to the evening’s marijuana theme, it seemed, were the bright green ties they wore with their black suits.
“This is not some big ganja fest,” said Justin Bartels, principal trumpeter for the Denver-based symphony. “This is very respectable.”
As attendees swirled through an art gallery just south of downtown, clinking glasses of wine and ducking through an open door to a rainy patio to light up a joint, the brass quintet ran through popular selections by Puccini and Debussy, playing on in a corner as the unmistakable odor of marijuana smoke filled the echoing space.
The symphony’s event was one more sign that marijuana has begun slipping into the cultural mainstream, five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational sales of the drug to adults 21 and older. (Washington state also allows recreational use.)
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In addition to hundreds of marijuana retailers and growers across the state, several companies offer marijuana tours through Denver and into the mountains. The Denver Post runs a bustling website, The Cannabist, devoted to all things marijuana. There are marijuana-friendly speed-dating events and cooking classes devoted to marijuana-themed recipes. And this spring, the Denver County Fair will feature an adults-only Pot Pavilion, albeit one without any actual marijuana plants on the premises. (Oregano will have to suffice for a joint-rolling contest.)
Friday’s event was organized by a marijuana-themed event promoter, and sponsored by a cannabis cultivation products company and a handful of marijuana sellers. For the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, the bring-your-own-marijuana event offered a novel way to raise $50,000 at a time it is contending with financial struggles and a battle over rent at its city-owned concert venue.
“For us, it’s just another fundraiser,” said Evan Lasky, the symphony’s chief operating officer. “Performing arts are struggling.”
Some board members objected to a fundraiser sponsored by an industry that sells a drug still outlawed by the federal government and a majority of states, and Lasky said he had received a few outraged emails, though none from patrons. Lasky said the sponsors had a straightforward pitch: They operated legal businesses in Colorado, had money and wanted to support the arts.
If the symphony’s chamber ensemble could perform a Beethoven and beer fundraiser, Lasky said, why not “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series”?
At first, the symphony sold tickets, but it was forced to refund those sales and recast the fundraiser as a private, invitation-only affair after Denver officials raised objections, saying the performance could violate laws against the public consumption of marijuana.
Despite the drug’s legality, it is illegal to consume marijuana on the street or in public parks, bars, restaurants or any other public spaces, and the police in cities such as Denver and Boulder have cracked down on public consumption in recent months. Denver officials warned that they could try to halt the symphony’s cannabis event and hold organizers and sponsors responsible for violating any public-consumption prohibitions.
In response, the symphony stripped information about the cannabis concert from its website, refunded ticket sales and agreed to limit attendees to a closed list of guests set by the organizer. The outdoor patio where guests smoked marijuana was sheathed in plastic to shield guests from street view.
“We were very careful,” Lasky said.
There are two more cannabis-sponsored fundraisers scheduled for the summer, including an outdoor concert at Red Rocks amphitheater in the foothills west of Denver. Marijuana consumption is banned at that venue, though many concertgoers would testify that the prohibition is loosely enforced.
As the chamber quintet performed, the guests — many of them connected to the marijuana industry — inspected the art, pinned marijuana-leaf pins to their dresses and suit lapels, and talked about business in this new frontier of commerce.
Leslie Bryant, 23, a law student who emphasized that she and her fiancé had planned ahead for a cab ride home, surveyed the scene from an upstairs balcony. She said the evening was a good excuse to dress up and add a grace note of culture to a recreational undertaking usually associated with someone’s basement or concert-hall bathrooms.
“It can be sophisticated,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be about stoners.”
A few tables away, Phil Cherner, a criminal-defense lawyer, said the evening was about as mainstream as you could get. “The goal of the project was to make marijuana boring,” said. “They’ve succeeded. It’s classical music, a glass of wine, a toke.”